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Why didn’t the Industrial Revolution start Earlier?

May 5, 2012 12 comments

Have you ever wondered why the industrial and scientific revolution of the last two Centuries not start earlier. I mean.. it does not make much sense. Many civilizations approached the requisite level of technology, organization and size (in some cases more than once) to have started down that path. But in every case they simply stagnated at a level that was just on the doorstep of a true revolution of ideas and technology.

Why? What stopped them from going over that threshold?

Conventional answers to this question invoke bad luck, complacence, climate changes, social structure, race and pretty much everything else under the sun. While there is no denying that external factors and social structures were often major secondary factors, I believe that the primary reason is somewhat different and often overlooked. To understand what I am getting at, you will have to ask yourself a rather odd question.

What motivates most human beings to do anything?

The conventional answer goes something along the lines of satisfying needs and wants, impressing others, profiting from you work etc. But is that really true? Can you explain what we know about human history if you model human behavior as being rational? Remember that logical behavior is not necessarily rational. OK, here is another question. Why did the quality of life for the vast majority of people actually go down after civilization started? And why did it not start going up until we were halfway through the scientific and industrial revolution? If civilization was such a great thing, why did it cause so much deprivation, starvation, diseases, wars and other types of strife?

What did civilization do for bettering the life of the average person? Was a single new plant or animal domesticated after civilization started? Did putting so many people together create a true exchange of ideas or more strife? Do regions with thousands of years of continuous civilization like India, China or Levant have anything to show for it- other than old palaces, temples, some luxury artifacts and some doctored records of the deeds or misdeeds of rulers? Why are humans living in tribes without civilization more rational and humane than people who proudly proclaim their civilization superiority? How many of the so-called primitive people will kill you because of your disbelief in their god, holy men or mythology? Now they can be certainly violent when it comes to defending their own interests, but only because you are trying to steal something or harm them.

Most of these “primitive” people would consider those who fight and suffer for “their” country, religion or a similar abstract notion to be nuts. While they would certainly stand by those in their immediate group or those they knew for years- the idea of putting your own life at risk for a cause that is very unlikely to benefit them would be rightly dismissed as absurd. Now think of how many wars, strife and low-level conflict throughout history has occurred for abstract notions which bring no benefit to the vast majority of those who participate in them. Or consider things like public sanitation, effective medical treatment of diseases, equitable distribution of food etc. Why did all of the above also diminish during the development of civilizations?

Did you notice a pattern? Everything that actually benefited people or made their lives better went to shit during periods of civilization. How come? Isn’t civilization supposed to make things better for all or most of its participants?

Now let us consider another possibility. Maybe civilization is not about making things better for most people. Maybe it is about making things worse for most people. Maybe civilization is about impoverishing, killing, starving, abusing and torturing others. Maybe it is about depriving people of happiness and human decency. Maybe civilization, as we know it, is about a few getting lucky and screwing others just to feel a bit better about their own pathetic lives.

Maybe the industrial and scientific revolution occurred because those who were busy trying to keep others down lost control.

What do you think? Comments?